Documenting White Supremacy in the United States
No matter how much we wish it isn’t so, white supremacy is hard wired into every American. Like fish swimming in an ocean who would be unable to identify themselves as wet, just so it’s hard for white America to understand how deeply it is a part of who we are. White Supremacy has been woven into the very fabric of the United States existence from the first beginnings up to today. This is clear when we examine the ideas of the one person that generation after generation has looked to as a role model, an exemplary individual who parents hope their children will emulate, a person who sets the moral compass for the country; the President of the United States. Few people can name even one famous athlete or singer from the 1800’s but almost everyone can name at least a couple of the Presidents during that period.
Human beings are complicated. No one is all bad or all good. This is especially true with racist behavior. The following are specific examples of people who sometimes did extraordinarily helpful things for people of color and race relations but also perpetuated White Supremacy:
1st President — George Washington kept slaves who he rotated between Philadelphia (the capital at that time) and his plantation in Virginia every six months, because of a Pennsylvania law that allowed slaves to sue for freedom after more than six months in the state. He ordered General John Sullivan to “destruct” and “devastate” as many Native American settlements as possible. “It will be essential to ruin their crops in the group and prevent their planting more”. (see the Journey of Healing Section about the consequences)
Eleven Presidents following Washington owned slaves.
3rd President — Thomas Jefferson postulated that “the blacks…are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” In his book Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson also offered the most popular race relations solution of the 19th century: the freeing, “civilizing,” and colonizing of all Blacks back to “barbaric” Africa. also important, President Jefferson prioritized domestic slave trade as it increased the demand and value of “breeding” their own enslaved Africans to supply the demand. “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man on the farm,” Jefferson explained to a friend on June 30, 1820. At age 40, Thomas Jefferson sex trafficked 12-year- old, Sally Hemmings, just as his father-in-law had raped & sex trafficked her mother. Jefferson kept this child in a windowless cell. He forced her to give birth to more than 6 children of rape. She could not consent; she was a child and held as a slave. He also began advocating for Indian removal which would bear horrendous fruit later.
5th President — James Monroe as a candidate supported the American Colonization Society. Presiding over the first meeting, House Speaker Henry Clay tasked the organization with ridding “our country of a useless and pernicious, if not dangerous” population, and redeeming Africa “from ignorance and barbarism.” During his seventh annual message to Congress Monroe said “We…declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portions of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.” Called the “Monroe Doctrine” this was the basis for intervention into sovereign Latin American states, including the toppling of governments unfriendly to U.S. interests. This Monroe Doctrine was as racist and devastating to Latin American communities abroad as the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was to indigenous communities at home.
7th President — Andrew Jackson founded the Democratic Party with a large coalition of southern slaveholders. To protect slavery, Jackson called on Congress to pass a law prohibiting “under severe penalties, the circulation…of incendiary publications.” referring to antislavery tracts. And the following year Jackson and his supporters instituted the infamous “gag rule” that effectively tabled all the anti-slavery petitions that were being brought before Congress.
Jackson’s Indian removal policies were the most devastating of all on the lives of Native Americans (and African Americans). Beginning with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, President Jackson forced several Native Americans nations to relocate from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern United States to areas west of the Mississippi River.
11th President Polk leaned on the racist idea of the Monroe doctrine when his administration waged the Mexican American War (1846-1848), framed as bringing freedom and civilization to the backward Mexicans. The outcome was that U.S. seized from Mexico nearly all of what is now the American Southwest.
16th President Abraham Lincoln in 1858 at his fourth debate with Stephen Douglas in Charleston, Illinois. “I am not, nor even have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people…and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
17th President Andrew Johnson said a year after the passage of the 13th Amendment “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President; it shall be a government for white men.”
18th President Ulysses S. Grant noted in his second inaugural address that he would not “ask that anything be done to advance the social status of the colored man.”
19th President Rutherford B. Hayes In 1879, referred to “the Negroes and Indians” as “weaker races”
20th President James Garfield repeated Lincoln’s theme of “white superiority,” arguing in a letter to an anonymous friend that “I have a strong feeling of repugnance when I think of the Negro being made our political equal. I have a strong feeling of repugnance when I think of the Negro being made our political equal. And I would be glad if they could be colonized, sent to heaven, or got rid of in any decent way.”
26th President Theodore Roosevelt believed that blacks were, in his own words, “altogether inferior to whites.” He argued in North American Review that “a perfectly stupid race can never rise to a very high plane; the negro, for instance, has been kept down as much by lack of intellectual development as by anything else.” “Every colored man should realize that the worst enemy of his race is the negro criminal, and above all the negro criminal who commits the dreadful crime of rape; and it should be felt as in the highest degree an offense against the whole country, and against the colored race in particular, for a colored man to fail to help the officers of the law in hunting down with all possible earnestness and zeal every such infamous offender. He spoke of the need to pick up the “white man’s burden” to “civilize” and “colonize” non-white populations. He also refused to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments or curbing lynching.
24th, 30th, 31 Presidents Cleveland, Hoover, and Coolidge focused their racial animus on the Chinese at the turn of the century, saying they were “backward,” “dishonest,” and “Unamerican,” respectively,
25th President William McKinley was the last president to have fought in the Civil War. He liked to hold reunions with veterans who had served in both armies in that conflict. He ignored the former slaves. McKinley stood by as North Carolina amended its constitution to deny blacks the franchise, in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment,
27th President William Howard Taft At the turn of the twentieth century, noted that “social equality between the races shall be enforced by law has no foundation in fact.” and “Hence it is clear to all that the domination of an ignorant, irresponsible element can be prevented by constitutional laws which shall exclude from voting both negroes and whites not having education or other qualifications thought to be necessary for a proper electorate. ”He proclaimed restrictions southern states had placed on voting constitutional and suggested that the Fifteenth Amendment had been a mistake.
28th President Woodrow Wilson described the KKK as “great” and “veritable.” He oversaw the re-segregation of the federal government. Black federal workers were fired, and those that remained faced separate and unequal workspaces, lunchrooms, and bathrooms. He refused to appoint Black ambassadors to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as was custom. When the Democratic Congress immediately enacted laws barring racial intermarriage in Washington, DC. Wilson went along.
29th President Harding opined in 1921 that “racial amalgamation there cannot be,” In 1921, the city of Birmingham, Alabama, he said “The very word “equality” should be eliminated from the national debate” and that the country should let the “black man vote when he is fit to vote” decided by local segregationists. African American newspapers noted the President’s admonition to blacks not to aspire to equality.
30th President Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924, an act championed by Republican eugenicists and Democratic Klansmen. The bipartisan measure severely restricted African immigrants, and banned the immigrations of Arabs and Asians. “America must be kept American,” President Coolidge had said during his first annual message to Congress in 1923.
31st President Herbert Hoover laid the foundation for disaffection of blacks from the Republican party during his presidency. In his Principles of Mining, Hoover discussed mining productivity not only as a function of the individual miner’s “skill, intelligence, and application” but also as a factor dependent upon the racial characteristics of the labor force. White workers, he argued, were of a higher “mental order” and possessed higher “intelligence” than “Asiatics and Negroes [sic].” They were, he argued, better “coordinated” and more likely “to take initiative,” and for this reason, it was cheaper and more efficient to hire white rather than nonwhite workers. “Much observation,” he continued, “leads the writer to the conclusion that, averaging actual results, one white man equals from two to three of the colored races, even in the simplest forms of mine work such as shoveling or tramming.”
In 1924, he argued strongly in favor of Japanese exclusion, primarily on racial grounds. Since the “biological fact” made “mixture of bloods disadvantageous,” he maintained, and since no population could “be included by immigration into another without contemplation of eventual mixture,” it was essential that further immigration from Japan be stopped.’”
32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made an executive order in 1942 that forced more than 100,000 Japanese (but not Germans and Italians) Americans into prisons during World War II. While some of the White American competitors in the 1936 Berlin Olympics received invitations to the White House, Jesse Owens did not. Meanwhile all of the job benefits in his New Deal, like minimum wage, social security, unemployment insurance, and unionizing rights excluded farmers and domestics—southern Blacks’ primary vocations. Housing discrimination was also etched in New Deal initiatives, like coding Black neighborhoods as unsuitable for the new mortgages. As such, Black communities remained buried in the Great Depression long after the 1930s while these New Deal policies (combined with the GI Bill) exploded the size of the White middle class.
33rd President Harry Truman “I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a n***** or a Chinaman.” Truman added, “Uncle Will say that the Lord made a white man from dust, a n***** from mud, then He threw up what was left and it came down a Chinaman. He does hate Chinese and Japs . . . So do I… I am strongly of the opinion that n****** ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia, and white men in Europe and America.”
34th President Eisenhower did not endorse Brown v. Board of Education and dragged his feat to enforce it. At a White House dinner the year before, President Eisenhower had told Chief Justice Earl Warren he could understand why White southerners wanted to make sure “their sweet little girls [are not] required to sit in school alongside some big black buck.”
36th President Lyndon B. Johnson repeatedly referred to the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as the “ni***r bill”. He said “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” In Congress he was a reliable member of the Southern bloc, helping to stonewall civil rights legislation. As [biographer Robert] Caro recalls, Johnson spent the late 1940s railing against the “hordes of barbaric yellow dwarves” in East Asia. Buying into the stereotype that blacks were afraid of snakes he’d drive to gas stations with one in his trunk and try to trick black attendants into opening it.
37th President Nixon advocated for abortion “when you have a black and a white…or a rape.” Richard Nixon’s“southern strategy” increase political support among white voters by appealing to racism against African Americans as a “vehicle of white supremacy in the South”
39th President Jimmy Carter spoke against “black intrusion” into white neighborhoods saying that the Federal Government should not take the initiative to change the “ethnic purity” of some urban neighborhoods or the economic “homogeneity” of well‐to‐do suburbs. “I’m not ‐going to use the Federal Government’s authority deliberately to circumvent the natural inclination of people to live in ethnically homogeneous neighborhoods.”
40th President Ronald Wilson Reagan Coined the term and perpetuated the “welfare queen” myth and perfected President Richard Nixon’s infamous “southern strategy” that actually worked nationally. President Reagan attracted voters through racially coded appeals that allowed them to avoid admitting they were attracted by the racist appeals. Then in 1982, President Reagan announced his War on Drugs at an inauspicious time: when drug use was declining. “We must mobilize all our forces to stop the flow of drugs into this country,” Reagan said. he signed “with great pleasure” the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established minimum sentencing for drug crimes and led to the mass incarceration of Black and Brown drug offenders over the next few decades. President Reagan took President Nixon’s racist drug war to a new level, and the mass incarceration of Black and Brown bodies accelerated under the Bush (times two) and Clinton administrations, especially after Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. White drug offenders, consuming and dealing drugs at similar or greater rates, remained disproportionately free. He noted in a 1980 conversation with Laurence Barrett that the 1965 Voting Rights Act was “humiliating to the South.”
41st President George H.W. Bush got elected president after a campaign marked by the infamous Willie Horton ad, about a black murderer who raped a white woman while on a weekend furlough from prison. During his first, losing bid for Congress in 1964, he criticized his opponent’s support for the Civil Rights Act. He escalated Reagan’s racist war on drugs.
42nd President Bill Clinton played golf at a “whites only” country club in Little Rock, Arkansas even though he established the One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race.
endnote: See for details about the above information:
https://www.coolidgefoundation.org/resources/essays-papers-addresses-34/https://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/George_W__Bush_Civil_Rights.htmhttps://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/http://ir.uiowa.edu/annals-of-iowa Garcia, George F. “Herbert Hoover and the Issue of Race.”The Annals of Iowa 44 (1979), 507-515.
There are numerous ways that white supremacy protects and promulgates itself. Framing colonizing behavior as “helping the poor savage” is one. (see the Journey of Healing Section about the consequences) Another important tool for keeping white supremacy in place is white fragility. See Assessment Tools section for the White Fragility self test.